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Assessment of Efficiency in Project Management: Analytical Essay

A literature review shows that there is limited comprehensive, objective evidence available to practitioners of project management. Most of the evidence is in-house, proprietary, and restricted in availability and usefulness. Some objective evidence is obtainable at the macro level of project management, and minimal use to operational managers. The limited research conducted is problematic as far as reliability and applicability for use by managers. The insinuation is that if project managers are employing methods based on objective evidence, such evidence evolved from the managers' personal or organizational experiences. It is more likely that managers are uncertain of effectiveness beyond anecdotal evidence. These managers are following possible past practices or relying on technology applications without any explicit knowledge that the methods required by the technological tools developed from objective evidence. All projects require competent leaders, working philosophy, and careful planning. Future research needs to continue to focus on how to assist project management teams in producing efficient projects in such a fast-paced world.

Keywords:

  1. Project Management, Evidence-Based
  2. Project Management Efficiency

Introduction

As the pace of business activity has increased, organizations increasingly must operate within rapidly changing business landscapes and on tighter schedules. The demands of a global marketplace, increased competition, the opportunities and risks presented by continually evolving technologies, and the need to make operational and strategic decisions in a compressed time-frame have made it essential for businesses to adopt efficient management systems. Organizations often take a project defined approach to multiple goals to set timetables, control budgets, allocate resources, clarify goals and objectives, and measure performance (Larson & Gray, 2008). The complexity of project demands requires organizations to develop sophisticated and innovative management methods. Ideally, leaders employ project management tools to achieve management efficiencies and favorable outcomes by predefining project scope, establishing schedules, controlling resources, integrating technology, and responding to stakeholder needs (Cleland, 1998). The project management field continues to grow in popularity as a preferred management method, and it plays an increasingly prominent role in larger organizations. Although established project management concepts exist, numerous approaches, methodologies, models, tools, and techniques cover a range of project management objectives.

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Before further debunking how project management is instrumental in warranting organizational success if adequately undertaken, in the current competitive economic spheres, it is paramount that the concept management, as a concept, is understood. A vast array of definitions exists as advanced by different studies. According to Sundqvist (2015), a project is a somewhat temporary endeavor that is pursued by an organization, whether small or large, to yield a unique service, product, or outcome. It is conspicuous that from the advanced definition, two key concepts exist, temporary and unique. Project management is distinguished from operational management because it is temporary; it has a predefined start and completion dates. Furthermore, an undertaking can only be a project if it yields a different outcome for the establishment. The uniqueness can stem from the expansion of current operations or the creations of goods and services that the company or organization did not produce before.

Contemporary researchers have advanced that project managers today are more focused on control and planning at the expense of flexibility and innovation. It is irrefutable that most businesses operating in the world today are a result of innovation. Therefore, if project management becomes an impediment to change, it is likely that companies will not be able to diversify their product portfolios and pursue innovative ways of filling market gaps (Larson & Gray, 2017). The rigidity of current project management tools and practices renders organizations incapable of dealing with operational and market uncertainties that are bound to occur in the future. The two core approaches that may be used by project managers include exploitation initiatives and exploration. Exploitation initiatives seek to exhaustively take advantage of existing technology to coin possible methods to deal with existing challenges (Larson & Gray, 2017).

Conversely, exploration initiatives are a means of seeking a solution for problems that have not occurred yet. Such an approach stems from flexibility and innovation in management. In this regard, business managers that adopt exploration initiatives tend to be ready for turbulent economic times to come.

Even though the practice of project management has been long existent in the corporate platforms, research on the area as an academic discipline commenced recently, that is why this subject attracts a lot of research and studies. According to a survey conducted by Rezende, Blackwell, and Gonçalves (2018), research in the field of project management is significantly shifting from project control to adaptability and flexibility. Furthermore, the scholars concluded that project complexity occurs because of uncertainties, structural aspects, pace, dynamics, and socio-political factors. In this accord, addressing the factors mentioned above that contribute to the complexity of a study will play a critical role in determining that the project is successful and insightfully managed to yield optimal results.

Project managers often have a variety of different techniques and tools available to them to manage projects efficiently. Still, a chief concern is how managers should select the most appropriate methods best suited for a particular project (Iman, 2008). Success and failure of a project are heavily dependent on a manager’s ability to design a project at its outset adequately, and subsequent implementation and management are a function of its design. Inadequate project formulation and the improper administration of the plan is often the primary cause of project failure (Chitkara, 1998). In a recent CHAOS study presented by the Standish Group, evidence suggests that project success (on-time delivery, within budget, including required features and functions) rate was 39%. Challenged (delayed, exceeds budget, and below needed features and functions) project rates were 43%. The project failure rate was 18% (The Standish Group International, Inc., 2012). Since project success and failure are directly related to a manager’s decisions in both the creation and management of a project, practical project management benefits from an understanding of leaders’ actual practice with various methods, tools, and techniques.

Research findings suggest that project managers select from a limited number of available management approaches and tools (White & Fortune, 2002). Moreover, most project managers continue to use project management tools and techniques by habit or by their industry popularity, instead of selecting and applying methods because of their known benefits to the project (Patanakul, Lewwongcharoen & Milosevic, 2010). Another influential factor in project management practice is the “standard practice of an organization.” The established process in their organization may dictate a project manager’s choice of method (Patanakul, Lewwongcharoen & Milosevic, 2010). This result suggests that project managers’ practices often are based on their habitual tradition, instinct, and organizational standards rather than being based on proven facts or objective external evidence (Greg, 2001).

Evidence-based project management practice is concerned with establishing project management methods based on the best available proof of effectiveness and integrating them into the project management conceptual framework. Evidence-based practice intends to help project managers to achieve results that are superior to the results obtained through current ad hoc approaches. Adoption of evidence-based practices, however, is not possible without confirmation of the evidence supporting them. A review of the available data, its quality, and verification of its reliability are necessary to establish effective practices. An analysis of the current literature can help answer essential questions about success, failure, limitations, and reliability. The answers are critical in establishing the usefulness of the evidence in creating practices with demonstrated reliability for success. A review of the literature concludes that proof of the benefits or disadvantages of different methods is not widely known (Patanakul, Lewwongcharoen & Milosevic, 2010; White & Fortune, 2002). Arguably, the lack of evidence supporting current practice suggests that there are many project management methods not supported by objective evidence.

Managerial Question

A project manager’s decisions as to design, implementation, and management have a significant influence on successful project outcomes. This analysis focuses on the available literature to better understand current practice as it relates to project manager selection of methods and tools, to frame the managerial question: are project managers guided by objective evidence of the effectiveness of project management tools in the range of their practices?

Search Strategy

A current literature review was undertaken to retrieve studies applying evidence-based approaches to the practice of project management. Searches involved Business Source Premium, Google Scholar, and Harvard Business Review.

The field of project management was selected as a primary filter to narrow searches to the relevant area of study. Keywords included evidence, evidence-based, models, methods, methodologies, tools, techniques, management, success, failure, and outcomes. Initially, searches were limited to the last five years to ensure that research results were recent. However, the initial search yielded only three research articles with relevance to the objectives of this literature review. The search expanded to include all items published since 2000. The expanded search yielded two additional articles. Five research articles met the criteria for this literature review.

Presentation of the Evidence

The researchers selected two articles for critical appraisal. In the first research report, the authors used an extensive sample study survey to evaluate how management tools and techniques contributed to project success (Patanakul, Lewwongcharoen & Milosevic, 2010). The second research article examined current practices in the field of project management to identify outcomes and implications (White & Fortune, 2002).

Article #1:

An Empirical Study on the Use of Project Management Tools and Techniques Across Project Life-Cycle and Their Impact on Project Success. In this 2010 study, Patanakul, Lewwongcharoen, and Milosevic surveyed a randomly selected large sample to identify how project management tools and techniques contributed to project success. This research evaluated 39 project management methods across a variety of industries including information technology, financial services, telecommunication, healthcare, manufacturing, defense, and construction. The study focused on outcome success or failure based on internal criteria (time, cost, and specification), customer criteria (product outcome, customer satisfaction), business criteria (financial benefits, competitiveness), and overall success or failure. Limitation of this research was that project duration, type, size, and strategic focus were not analyzed. This study indicated that only 10 of 30 methods examined matched all or at least some of the success dimensions.

Article #2:

Current Practice in Project Management: An Empirical Study. Diana White and Joyce Fortune conducted an empirical study to 1) determine a standard list of critical success factors to project outcomes; 2) discover unexpected impacts that can arise from project management practices; 3) develop generally agreed criteria on which to judge project success, and; 4) identify limitations and drawbacks specific methods or tools. White and Fortune divided their surveys into two parts. In the beginning, 30 project managers received pilot surveys. Based on feedback from these pilot questionnaires, the authors designed a new study and sent it to 995 project managers in 620 organizations. There were responses from 236 project managers. To assess project success, the authors used the following criterion: 1) clients' requirements; 2) time; 3) cost; 4) organizational objective; 5) business disruptions; 6) quality/safety standards, and 7) business & other benefits. The limitation of the study resulted from being at the border with little depth. Project managers reported 1) a project success rate of 41%; 2) that 46% of them had experienced unexpected side-effects to project management tools, and 3) 42% of them believed that their methods and tools had significant limitations. Interestingly, 2% reported that they did not use any project management tools at all; 28% stated that they didn't follow a particular method, and; 54% merely relied on internal software systems.

Critical Appraisal of the Evidence

The two research articles analyzed various aspects of project management and covered a broad range of results produced by project management methods and project management practices. Both researcher groups developed their metrics to measure project success, but they shared similarities. One widely researched topic in project management is the concept of project success factors and the criteria used to measure project success (Abraham, 2003; Zhang, 2005). Patanakul, Lewwongcharoen, and Milosevic concluded that 10 project tools and techniques contributed more to project success out of 39 means considered. However, no evidence demonstrated the proficiency of project managers in the use of these tools and techniques. Ability in methods proved to be a critical factor. In projects rated satisfactory or challenged, managers displayed a real mastery of technical skills, while lower skills contributed to failed projects (Iman, 2008).

Furthermore, the research did not evaluate the 29 other tools and used in the projects. The study only presented the results of these different methods regarding success or failure but without any consideration of how they might have influenced the outcome. The possible contribution of these other factors, in combination with the positively identified methods, could have had an impact on overall results.

The White and Fortune research concerned macro-level operations of project management but did not provide much evidence at the micro-level aspect of project management practices. For example, the study ranked “meeting quality/safety standards” as 7th regarding its importance in determining project success. This ranking is arbitrary. The level of relevance easily will vary among industries. The reliance on macro-level analysis alone may have the potential to mislead project managers. Also, there were severe limitations introduced, which severely affect the ability of project managers to apply the findings. The research indicated that 70% of the unexpected side-effects identified by the study could be attributed, directly or indirectly, to a lack of awareness of the environment. The researchers suspected that many tools and methods were inadequate in real-world modeling problems, but there also could be other issues contributing to the unexpected side-effect. For example, project managers may not have adequate knowledge, organizations may not have invested in the proper tools, or group practice might erroneously advocate the use of the wrong tools or methods.

Synthesis

A literature review indicates that extensive, objective evidence is not readily available to project management practitioners. Most evidence is internal, proprietary, and limited in availability and usefulness. Only a limited amount of objective evidence is available at the macro level of project management, and restricted use to managers at the operational level. Also, the limited research conducted is questionable as far as reliability and applicability for practical use by leaders. The implication is that if project managers are utilizing methods based on objective evidence of effectiveness, such evidence is either personal or organizational experience. More likely, managers are not sure of effectiveness beyond anecdotal evidence, only following past practices, if any, and relying on technology applications without any specific knowledge that the methods dictated by the technological tools are evidence-based.

Project management is challenging to oversee an organization. Taking on a project, big or small, is no easy feat. However, for companies to continue to strive in the age of technology and a global economy, implementing and completing projects becomes part of the norm. Rapidly evolving technologies have significantly impacted the way organizations are planning, designing, and developing their projects (Rivera-Ruiz & Ferrer-Moreno, 2015).

The goal of project management is to contribute to the organization's success. Project management speaks to the company’s motivation, mission, and overall outlook (Hawley, 2016). This literature serves to explore the different dynamics of project management, including what makes projects successful. The study examines how projects can fail at times. The researchers provide various strategies for project completion. All of the research for this review is within the last three years. Therefore, the information is current and insightful.

The project management office is a new trend that is majorly employed by project management organizations as a means to a better-coordinated portfolio of the project. Just like aforementioned in other sections of this research study, quantification of the impact of the research on the performance of the initiative or project success has been a somewhat technical and complicated process (Bredillet, Tywoniak, and Tootoonchy, 2017). Although the project management office serves as a practical approach to managing the portfolio of a project, empirical studies have demystified that the value of PMOs is unquantifiable or challenging to quantify, and the endeavor is often short-lived. Typically, the evolution in project management to suit the contemporary shifts in the market has made an effort challenging to quantify, hence resulting in the sprout of another far-reaching managerial challenge.

Project management is part of the organizational field and focuses on the application of skills, knowledge, tools, and techniques to meet the goal of a project. Cechurova (2016) believed there are many benefits to project management. He understands why companies are using this strategy more than ever. He has seen an increase in the past decades of companies using and benefiting from project management (Pekuri, A., Pekuri, L., & Haapasalo, 2015). Cechurova 2016) surmises that critical project management tools have helped to fuel the need for this strategy in different organizations. These instruments were known to help with the plan in obtaining successful projects. Even with these tools, Cechurova (2016) believes that even the most managed projects can go haywire. Therefore, he trusts in using a project portfolio to help in the handling of more significant ventures, and even smaller ones.

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